The Federal Communications Commission is moving to ease restrictions on Internet use in commercial airlines as the agency attempts to enhance competition in the mobile telecommunications market and help speed the deployment of Internet services onboard aircraft.
In addition to promoting the economic growth and job-creating impacts of ubiquitous broadband, the action also continues the FCC's efforts to update and streamline regulatory requirements across the agency. The latest report and order formalizes Earth Stations Aboard Aircraft (ESAA)—earth stations on aircraft communicating with Fixed-Satellite Service (FSS) geostationary-orbit (GSO) space stations.
ESAA as a licensed application in the FSS and establishes a regulatory framework for processing applications while ensuring other radio service operations are protected from harmful interference. Installed on the exterior of the aircraft, the satellite antenna carries the signal to and from the aircraft, providing two-way, in-flight broadband services to passengers and flight crews.
Two mobile applications in the FSS—Earth Stations on board Vessels (ESV) and Vehicle-Mounted Earth Stations (VMES)—provide satellite communications with vessels and land vehicles. ESAA is the third leg of mobile applications in the FSS. The satellite antenna will carry the signal to and from the aircraft, and mobile technologies such as WiFi will provide communications within the aircraft's hull.
The FCC move now means rather than having to license on-board systems on an ad hoc basis, airlines will be able to test systems that meet FCC standards, establish that they do not interfere with aircraft systems and get Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval.
"By reducing administrative burdens on both applicants and the Commission, the new rules should allow the Commission to process ESAA applications up to 50 percent faster, enhancing competition in an important sector of the mobile telecommunications market in the United States and promoting the widespread availability of Internet access to aircraft passengers," an FCC statement explained.
While the FCC is working to speed up deployment of WiFi systems in airplanes, private enterprise is also working on wireless Web capabilities. Airplane manufacturer Boeing has taken some interesting steps in its efforts to test improvements on wireless signals in airplane cabins, making it possible for passengers to enjoy more reliable connectivity when using networked personal electronic devices in the air.
Much of the testing took place on the grounded airplane with the seats filled with 20,000 pounds of potato sacks (to simulate the bulk of human beings) through which wireless signals must pass. In addition to the potato sacks, Boeing engineers created a new process for measuring radio signal quality using proprietary measurement technology and analysis tools, which enables engineers to measure more efficiently how strong a signal is and how far it spreads.